LibriVox recording of Liber Amoris by William Hazlitt. Read by Nick Duncan
Liber Amoris is unlike anything Hazlitt wrote and probably like nothing you've come across before. On the face of it it tells the story of Hazlitt's infatuation with his landlords daughter. Hazlitt was middle aged and she young and pretty, a bit of a coquette from the sound of it. It turned out badly for Hazlitt and the book tells the story of this doomed love. Critics have always been divided about the merit of the piece. Even those who see its merit often feel more comfortable with his polished literary works, and perhaps rightly so. This is not a work to make you feel comfortable.
I'd like to propose though that there is more to this as a work of art. It was the beginning of the era of the auto-biography that was arguably started by Rousseau in his Confessions. Going beyond Rousseau's mild self criticism, Hazlitt gives a ruthless self portrait (as well as an unsparing portrait of the object of his affections) of the weakness and mental turmoil that he experienced during the love affair. In this it is much closer to the theatre of cruelty of Antonin Artaud in which a pure artisitc truth is revealed through 'shattering a false reality that lies like a shroud over our perceptions'. Hazlitt had this in spades.
So if you are looking for a polished stroll through the romantic sensibility this is not for you. This is about a close as you'll get to participating in a romantic car crash. A work of great art.
Notes: Nick Duncan
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